I haven't had a proper camera since the digital revolution made my years as film photography student seem quaint, like minoring in tannery, or taxidermy. Granted, there is still great work being done in film, and I'm not sure that even the best digital cameras match it yet--though they're close--but it still feels a little funny having been in likely the last class to learn hand-processing not as some retro-choice, but as the only option for aspiring professionals, just as it must've felt when the French perfected a county-wide canal system just in time for the automobile to render that method of goods transport adorable and less cutting-edge than they imagined and budgeted for.
Since I'm travelling around Europe a good bit this year, I thought it was time to step up. Thing is, I'm sort of particular about what I carry on my person. I choose my wallet based on whether it will disturb the line of my trousers, and carry my keys in a side-bag for the same reason. I'm not a diva exactly, but cheap or badly designed things not only disturb me ethically, and obviously, aesthetically, but sensually: the touch of most plastics turns my stomach. I know enough about myself to realize that if I was actually going to carry a camera with me, rather than have one on my shelf at home, it would have to be small, and pretty cute.
So DSLR for me then. At the same time, I didn't want to settle for the quality that comes from most compacts. Anybody that pays attention to such things will know that we're in the middle of a small-camera revolution, with the advent of the (really strangely beautiful) iPhone camera, and the Micro 4/3, and other mirrorless systems making quality files available from much smaller packages than were concievable a few years ago.
I spend entirely too much of my time reading reviews of these cameras, and by this point I've owned most of them, and been really satisfied by none, and thought I ought to say why.
The first one I bought was the legendary--really this camera and the hype surrounding it will define this decade of camera manufacture in any history thereof--Fuji x100. I don't want to provide a full review here, since they exist really by the thousands all over the internet; I just want to say a little more loudly some things that all those reviews say in the footnotes. That is: though this camera makes amazing images, better than anything in its class, including narrowly, the Leica x1 (more on that in a minute), and though it is beautifully-designed as an object (I notice whenever anyone walks by with one around h/ir neck), its menu-design and sluggishness take nearly all the joy out of shooting with such a pretty thing.
Amber Willett in Dresden, Germany. Shot with Fuji x100.
Again, every reviewer notes this camera's focus-problems and slow start-up speed, but they don't say with sufficient strength (or didn't anyway to stop me from buying it) that what this means is that you'll often miss shots while it "boots up," that if you see some great moment--your wife smiling, kids playing, and bird overhead--you'll likely get to save that only as a memory, while you look at the little rotating wheel on your x100's screen. If somehow, by the time you're ready, something else great happens, you'll likley get an out-of-focus picture of it, since it's another 10 seconds (more like 3, but that's an eternity to a smile) while the thing focuses.
I look back at the few good images I made with it from time to time and think: these are gorgeous, but not since the Sega Genesis have I so badly wanted to physically damage a piece of equiptment for dis-obeying me. If you have a world of patience, or a studio, or if you take pictures mainly of food or other things that hold still, this is the camera for you. Otherwise, let's all be thankful for Fuji's having moved the proverbial ball so far down the field in terms of style, but lament their accompanying ham-fisted approach to the engine that drives it. A great camera to look at then, just not much of one to look with.